The Pi Le trumpet: The sounds of Dao life

06:00 | 20/03/2021 Culture & Tourism

(VEN) - Along with Nem drums, cymbals and gongs, the Pi Le trumpet is an important musical instrument in the religious and cultural life of the Dao people. It is the sound of mountains and forests, and also the call of the Dao people in spring. During the Tet Lunar New Year holiday, the sound of the trumpet reminds people to preserve their original identities.

the pi le trumpet the sounds of dao life

A wedding ceremony of the Dao Lu Gang ethnic group

Hoang Nguyen Pham is a famous Pí Le trumpet artist who lives in Nam Cuong Commune in the Cho Don District of the northeastern province of Bac Kan. He usually plays the trumpet at important ceremonies like weddings and funerals of the Dao. In the spring, the sounds of his trumpet fill the air.

In accordance with the lunar calendar, the Dao people believe that the trumpet should mostly be heard from September to March and should be silent the rest of the year - except for important ceremonies – to avoid damaging the rice crops. This is a highly respected taboo.

Hoang Nguyen Pham, 44, has been passionate about his trumpet since learning to play it at the age of 10. He says the most important technique any new player must learn is how to take, hold and release their breath. Practice is also very important to ensure a good performance during ancestor worship ceremonies at which respect is paid to the dead. Most Dao families worship their ancestors as far back as nine generations, starting with parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Ancestor worship occurs during funerals, tomb visits, the full moon of seventh lunar month, Lunar New Year festival, and other rituals.

the pi le trumpet the sounds of dao life
Artist Hoang Nguyen Pham

No written notes

After grasping the basics, Pham accompanied his brother to learn the different tunes and techniques suited to various occasions. Since there are no written instructions regarding the music for or notes for these ceremonies, he had to listen attentively and memorize what he heard and what his brother showed him. It took him more than 20 years to gain sufficient confidence to perform as the main blower at rituals for the rice and forest gods and other occasions.

These days, Pham is a famous artisan and is invited to perform on important occasions. He has memorized all the tunes, and knows which one to blow on each specific occasion.

The Pi le trumpet consists of a mouthpiece, pipe and bell and can produce 72 sound variations.

Pham explains that at wedding ceremonies, for example, certain tunes are trumpeted to welcome the bride and her entourage, and others are played once the entourage moves away. At weddings, he says, the sound of the trumpet is always cheerful and bustling; at funerals, the trumpet emits somber notes. These intricacies, nuances and complexities can only be mastered over time are difficult to explain in words.

the pi le trumpet the sounds of dao life

Trieu Hoang Giang